Road To Wembley Part 3: Billy Paynter And Runcorn Linnets Up For The Cup

The former Leeds United striker is now a first-team coach at Runcorn
16:45, 02 Sep 2022

Billy Paynter knows a thing or two about the FA Cup. He was cup-tied for Sheffield United’s semi-final in 2014 but was a major part of the League One dressing room that reached the final four, while in 2006 he faced off against Gareth Barry and James Milner’s Aston Villa in round three. 

Now retired, he is first team coach at Runcorn Linnets, the club who knocked Trafford FC out with a 2-1 win on The Sportsman’s Road to Wembley. Runcorn, in the eighth tier of English football, continue their FA Cup journey with a tough First Qualifying Round trip to Marske United this weekend, and we caught up with Paynter and manager Dave Wild to talk about that famous magic. 

“I went on loan to Sheffield United and they were on a fantastic run, got to the semi-finals at Wembley against Hull City,” Paynter tells The Sportsman. 


“But even just being on the journey with them, being in the dressing rooms and the journey to get to Wembley being a League One side - that is what the FA Cup is about. The upsets... They beat Fulham away and as a kid growing up it is such a fantastic competition, you watch it live on TV, you hope for upsets, the David versus Goliath stories. Hopefully we can go on a nice little run. It's a big ask going to Marske, they are flying at this moment in time, they've got some experience of league football players in their team, so we can go there and try and give a good account of ourselves and who knows, it is the FA Cup!

“The league is your norm, you are playing against your own level. I remember playing against Arsenal at Elland Road for Leeds and playing against some of those players, Fabregas, Giroud - world class players who have played in Champions Leagues and World Cups. But players who are not at that level can rub shoulders with them for 90 minutes. It would be fantastic to get a replay and get them at home.”

For clubs like Runcorn, who are fan-owned at step four of non-league, the finances the FA Cup brings to the club are absolutely vital. It’s something that Paynter is more than aware of heading into the game. 


“It is massive. In every round the pot goes bigger, but being a fan-run club I'm sure the fans and the chairman will put that back into the squad. It might be one or two players to improve our team, it might improve facilities for the fans and the team itself.”

“The FA Cup is massive for clubs at our level of football,” former chairman and fan of 50 years Mark Runcorn adds. “It's every non-league club's dream to get to the third round proper and draw a Premier League club, and we saw that happen with Marine playing against Tottenham [in 2021].  Both the exposure and income would be a massive boost. We always found it prudent in the past not to budget for any cup winnings at all, and then anything earned by the team comes as a bonus to the club's financial situation.”

“For a club at this level to have a run in the FA Cup is enormous,” manager Dave Wild confirms. “We are a fan-owned club so every penny counts, as corny as it sounds it is absolutely true. A cup run is vital and ultimately that will be the same for Marske and every club that is left in the competition. For us, as a fan-owned club it is imperative for us to do all we can to have a good run in the FA Cup and FA Trophy. Certainly, we're going up there to try and win the game, whether we will be able to or not is a different question. In terms of the financial implications it can seriously support the budget and the general running of a football club at this level.”

Wild, who only joined the club this summer, is desperate to achieve promotion and work higher up the football pyramid, but he also explains the different challenges that non-league presents ahead of the 290-mile round trip to the east coast. 

“In non-league, we are just accustomed to it,” he smiles. “I've been to work today, straight into this tracksuit, bang, out we come. I'm lucky enough to work in a school as a PE teacher and behaviour mentor so it doesn't cripple me that much. but we have got lads out there who are plasterers and welders. 

“Billy Paynter drives fancy cars up and down the country now so his body must be in bits, but that is why we do it. We are at this level because we love the game. It is not about making thousands and thousands of pounds, as much as we would all like to, it is about loving the game. So I don't really overthink the fatigue. I think adrenaline and willingness to win gets you through on a Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday every week.”

Runcorn take on Marske United at 3pm on Saturday, September 3, with The Sportsman following the winners of that tie into the Second Qualifying Round for another episode of our Road to Wembley. 

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